By Koye Berry

For 20 years, Atlanta has been the home of the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF), a year-round celebration of the art and culture of African descendants in America. This month, the NBAF is presenting a wide variety of unique exhibits, concerts and lectures to entertain and educate festival goers. These, in particular, are not to be missed:

Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple – July 15-Aug. 3, The Fox Theatre, ages 10+, prices vary

The hotly anticipated musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel returns to Atlanta after a triumphant Broadway engagement. This time, it plays the Fox Theatre.

Gee’s Bend – July 16-27, Theatrical Outfit, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 p.m., $25

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s musical about a unique group of African-American women whose faith and craft transformed suffering and injustice into beauty and meaning in Gee’s Bend, Ala., plays at Theatrical Outfit, where it had a sold-out run in 2007.

Pan African Film Festival – July 18-27, Woodruff Arts Center, admission per film starts at $8

Kicking off July 18, the Los Angeles-based Pan African Film Festival comes to Atlanta, bringing with it the nation’s largest showcase of black cinema. The festival prides itself on selecting challenging films from America’s most creative African-American directors. Don’t miss the chance to experience these works.

Legends Celebration: An Evening with Gladys Knight – July 18, 8 p.m., $20, Atlanta Civic Center

This is an opportunity to see a living legend do what she does best. Joining the ranks of Roberta Flack and Andrew Young, Gladys Knight is this year’s honoree at the NBAF Legends Celebration. The Atlanta native will perform songs spanning her five-decade career for this one-night-only event.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis – July 19, 7 p.m., $20, Woodruff Arts Center, Symphony Hall

Legendary jazz composer/trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will perform a selection of timeless jazz standards with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Take note: On November 6 and 7, Marsalis will return to the ASO for a world premiere of his newest symphonic work.

Creatively Speaking: Dr. Cornel West & Wynton Marsalis with Carrie Mae Weems – July 20, Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium, 2 p.m., $20

The “Creatively Speaking” series is one of the most important features of the NBAF, facilitating intellectual conversation among some of the greatest minds in the African-American community. Famed philosopher Dr. Cornel West will sit down with renowned composer Wynton Marsalis and award-winning photographer Carrie Mae Weems to discuss the role of artists in the continuing civil rights movement.

World Music Festival at Centennial Olympic Park
– July 26-27, 5-10 p.m., free

What festival would be complete without a concert in the park? The World Music Festival boasts a two-day lineup of musical acts homegrown and from abroad. Toots and the Maytals, Roy Ayers, and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra are just a few of the scheduled performers, not to mention the various DJ booths spinning dance grooves from around the globe. Be sure to bring the whole family; this party is for everyone.

ASO at Ebenezer Baptist Church – July 27, 7 p.m., free

Robert Spano conducts a special concert to close the NBAF festivities. Program selections include the Haydn Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.